Jill Woolbright is one of eight candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 18 primary election. Woolbright is running in District 1 against Vincent Lyon.
It is in effect a special election necessitated by the decision of Andy Dance to resign his school board seat in November, as he’s in a race for a County Commission seat. The winner will serve just two years, and will have to run again in 2022 to retain the seat.
The three school board elections–for District 1, 3 and 5–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in the two races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.
You may cast a vote in all three races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 18 will decide the winner in District 1 between Vincent Lyon and Jill Woolbright and in District 5, between incumbent Maria Barbosa and Cheryl Massaro, because both races have just two candidates each. District 3 is a three-way race between incumbent Colleen Conklin, Paul Mucciolo and Carol Bacha, known as Mother Elizabeth. The race in this case would be decided only if a candidate wins better than 50 percent of the vote. Short of that, the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off, to be decided in the general election on Nov. 6.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to the school board candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Questions appear in bold, follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in bold and italics, and may be awaiting answers. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.
School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $33,950 a year.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Purpose and vision
- District’s Covid response
- Schools’ reopening
- Successes and failures
- Half-penny surtax
- School deputies
- LGBTQ rights
- Social media
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Parkersburg, West Virginia, Nov. 23, 1957.
Current job: Retired Teacher, Part-Time Preschool Director.
Net worth: $486,000.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites and Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/thefutureisbrightwithJillWoolbright/
1. What is your vision for public education in Flagler County and how are you uniquely qualified to help enact it within the limitations of the job? If you’re an incumbent, how have you enacted it in your previous years? If you’re a challenger, what have you done to prepare?
I am uniquely qualified for this position as a retired classroom teacher of 28 years with all years of experience right here with Flagler Schools. With a recent retirement date in November 2019, I have a practical and current perspective of student and staff needs so desperately needed on the current school board. Having worked with many families over the years, I have built trusting relationships with many of the stakeholders in education and am known as a leader and bold advocate for students. The fact that I do not currently hold a full time position will offer me the opportunity to be most available to the public. Education here in Flagler County has been and remains my passion. I am and will remain all in.
As a school board member, the limitations will be that I will not be managing the day to day operations of the school district. That is the job of the superintendent and her executive directors. However, I will be able to gain and maintain trust as a school board member that understands day to day operations that directly impact students. I will have background knowledge when making policies and analyzing budget requests that are currently needed. For example, at the June 16th Board Meeting, the board was asked to approve county level job description changes for three current positions and to add an additional fourth position that would report to the school board attorney. This was discussed at the previous workshop I attended. With our current state of affairs with a hiring freeze and projected budget cuts due to covid-19, I did not find it prudent to create a new county level position. I corresponded with the school board, board attorney, and superintendent stating my concern and reasons for my concerns. I attended the board meeting where they were being asked to approve this new position, publicly addressed the board, and they in turn decided after much discussion to table the position until the 2020-2021 budget was clarified. Had I not been active and attentive, they no doubt would have approved that new position. As a candidate, I have attended the workshops, board meetings, and retreats schedule since my retirement last November. I have met with current school board members, past Superintendent Tager, and several executive directors asking them to explain their duties and experiences in their positions as well as asking for words of advice in the qualities they believe make a good school board member. I have worked hard to stay informed and continued developing relationships with stakeholders and citizens at large.
Jill Woolbright, District 1
Carol Bacha (Mother Elizabeth)
Colleen Conklin, District 3
Paul Mucciolo, District 3
Maria Barbosa, District 5
Dave Sullivan, District 3
Donald O'Brien, District 5
Bob Jones, District 5
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Ed Danko (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Cornelia Manfre (Dist. 3)
Zack Shapiro (Dist. 3)
See The Observer's Speedy Candidate Interviews
2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, what your temperament is like: if you’re an incumbent, what do you consider may have been a mistake or a misjudgment on your part in your official capacity—something you’d do over, differently–in the past four years? If you’re a challenger, apply the question to your work or civic involvement.
I am a strong, bold, and direct woman that becomes passionate about the things I believe in, living a life of service to others in my community. My passion for education and service to my community is what drives me. As a teacher, I was a high impact teacher. I was highly effective every year in my local evaluations, as well as making the highly effective list of teachers put out by the State of Florida Department of Education every year they published a list. In 2016, I was ranked as the Number one 6th grade Math teacher in Florida with my student’s scores for 2014, 2015, and 2016 a higher average gain than anyone else in the state.
I am an active volunteer in our community. I am a member of Parkview Church, where I work 15 hours a week as the part-time Preschool Director. I oversee around 45 volunteers designing curriculum and schedules for 4 preschool rooms for our 4 weekend services. I volunteer for Parkview’s huge Trunk a Treat event held annually on Halloween, sing in the choir, perform at the annual Living Nativity Drive-Thru, and helped distribute food to hundreds of families during Parkview’s 7 Food Distributions since COVID-19 this spring, one of which was in conjunction with the City of Palm Coast where we provided food for 5,000 families. I also volunteer at Alpha Women’s Center as a Client Advocate and WARM Group Facilitator teaching parenting classes to pregnant women recovering from addictions in residential treatment at Project WARM in Bunnell. These women come to the rehab pregnant and are able to keep their newborn babies with them at the rehab when they are born. Many have older children in the foster care system and are working to rehabilitate and have their children returned to them.
My passion in service to my community is my strength, but that very strength can sometimes be my weakness, as from time to time, I can become overzealous. I have to take time to slow down and reevaluate my efforts and am grateful for those in my life that hold me accountable and help me to keep myself in check.
While the strength-is-a-weakness explanation is certainly valid, we’d like an example of a more candid example of a misjudgment, a misstep, an error (or two) that you committed in your professional life–its length certainly lent itself to the inevitable missteps–how you dealt with it and how you grew from it: it’s a valid way of understanding how you’d handle adversity or missteps on the board.
Yes, I have made misjudgments, missteps, and/or errors in my professional and personal life. Rather than a specific example, I will explain how I deal with adversity or missteps. First, I am an extremely reflective person. I once had an administrator that was charged with conducting my yearly evaluation tell me that I was the most reflective employee on staff and how refreshing it was to have someone so reflective on their practices. I daily reflect how I am doing as a human being both professionally and personally. That is also what I taught my students. I taught them we all make mistakes, but the difference is if we learn from them or not. If I make a mistake, the first thing I have to do is humble myself and admit I didn’t handle a situation as well as I should have. That is what I call having a “Growth Mindset.” I would teach this to my students by way of example. If I made a mistake in instruction or in handling a situation, I would accept responsibility, admit it to myself, admit it to other people impacted, and then make a plan to correct the situation if possible. Sometimes, there is no way to correct things, and it is a matter of apologizing and committing to not do that again.
3. Evaluate the way the district handled the Covid pandemic so far: while the order to close in-person instruction was handed down from the Department of Education, remote instruction methods were up to the districts. Did Flagler schools pass that test? Where was the execution best, where did it fail?
Relative to the emergency situation of the shut-down of the public school system, I believe comparatively speaking, Flagler County did an above average job responding and serving our students. Now, that is not to say that things were perfect. However, because we were well positioned with one-to-one devices for most grade levels, the district was easily able to get the remainder of student’s devices for remote online instruction therefore ahead of most counties. Additionally, since we have had the half-penny sales tax money to provide devices to our students, most teachers were trained in how to provide instruction using online textbooks and resources to create online lessons and were well adapted at using platforms for assigning and grading online work.
The younger elementary school students were the students that lost the most academic time as both teachers and students were not proficient in using technology and younger students are more teacher dependent and need side by side face to face instruction. Mind you, instruction for most students at all levels was not at the rigor and pace that would have been in the traditional classroom or that of iFlagler or Florida Virtual School should parents choose those options in August. The students we failed the most were the ESE students. They did not receive the support they were accustomed to according to their IEP’s. Those students are more dependent on teacher interactions and individualized plans than the general population.
Understanding that you answered before the more recent surge and before the district developed its three-pronged instructional approach (online, iFlagler and in-person), would you evaluate that approach, telling us its strengths and weaknesses?
I will start by saying it is wonderful that our district is able to offer three choices for our students and families. It is also wonderful that if parents choose online at-home schooling the district will provide the needed device. We are ahead of other county’s with our technology capabilities.
The three choices:
i-Flagler – iFlagler is a subsidiary of Florida Virtual Schools, an online option the Florida Department of Education came out with in the late 90’s. The problem with FLVS is that with this choice, the state keeps the Full-time-equivalent funds for every student enrolled in FLVS and hires teachers from across the state. So in an effort to keep these funds here in our county and employ teachers in our district, iFlagler was created. iFlagler does have to pay a fee to FLVS to use their curriculum, but the remainder of the funds stay in the county. Since the State Department of Education developed FLVS, the curriculum is rigorous and inline with The Florida State Standards. It is recommended for average and above independent students. Since iFlagler uses the same curriculum, one can be assured that if they select this program, their child will receive grade level instruction in all of the Florida Standards. There is freedom with this program to work ahead if one so chooses, and on their own time schedule. A student is not forced to complete a long stretch of work hour after hour like in school learning. They can schedule breaks and work around other appointments. They have a set amount of lessons to complete a week, but are free to flex their schedule. This is not a good choice for ESE students.
Remote Learning – Remote learning will resemble traditional learning except the students will be sitting in front of a device during school hours rather than in a classroom. This option requires the student to sit in front of their device to receive instruction and practice work during normal school hours. For instance, the elementary school day is typically 9:00 – 3:30. With the exception of lunch and scheduled breaks, the students will be required to sit in front of their device all day as if they were at school. It will be difficult for the teacher to keep students at home on task. It is a fact that proximity to the teacher increases on task behavior and on task behavior increases learning. This is especially concerning for students that have a difficult time paying attention or need to be redirected often. Parents will have to monitor their children’s behavior to keep them on task. This will be difficult for ESE students as proximity of teacher and students is generally even more crucial as well as the need for small group instruction. Also, I fear parents and students think this option will be like what they experienced in the Spring with Stay-At-Home orders. It will be much more rigorous and a longer day than this past Spring. This plan has the most risk for inadequate learning, but is a good choice to minimize health risks.
It is important to note that the school district had until July 31 to submit their Remote Learning plan to the FLDOE subject to approval. It is not yet known if the state accepted this proposal. If not, this choice will subsequently be removed.
Traditional in School Learning – Face to face instruction is widely known to be best for students, especially younger students. Granted things will be much different as students need to be safely distanced from each other and working independently. There obviously will be time taken from academics in order to wash hands and take precautions when moving students around the campus while keeping a safe distance. This is the most risky choice regarding health, but the best instructional choice for ESE students to receive IEP accommodations and for students to return closest to a normal school day. These choices are still being worked out by county personnel as teachers will be positioned to cover the students in each of these programs. The first day of school was moved up two weeks in order to provide additional time to get personnel trained and in place.
4. How comfortable are you with a full resumption of school in the fall? As a policy maker, you’ll have to approve the district’s reopening plan. What will be your guiding principles in making that decision? What programs or activities are you willing to forfeit next year, should that become necessary, as part of the plan?
First, the School Board is a policy maker, but the opening of school in August is under the operations purview. The superintendent and her executive directors in collaboration with our local Health Department are making those decisions. I believe the health of the public should be left up to the health department experts and the education of students should be at the discretion of the school district.
On July 2, I attended the School Board Retreat where the superintendent and executive team presented their reopening plan to the board. The plan was collaboratively made with Robert Synder, the Director of the Health Department advising the executives and well aware of our buildings and capabilities. Although the plan remains fluid as do plans for our city, county, state and nation, I believe it is a start to getting children back to school which has been championed by experts in various fields. There will not be any nonessential activities or people allowed on campus. If there is an outbreak of the virus, the schools will take direction from the Health Department, as like any other community health concern, as how to proceed. Those policies are already in place.
Actually, as we learned at the July 28 special meeting and the workshop that preceded it, there’s great confusion and a lack of clear answers to the elephant in the room sort of question: there is no known threshold as to when the district would opt for remote instruction exclusively. The board is under the understanding that that’s a district administration decision, the district is under the impression it’s a state decision, and the health department says it doesn’t make decisions either for school boards or for local governments. Parents and faculty cannot possibly be comfortable with that sort of vagueness. Are you? How would you bring more clarity?
There are three governmental agencies that must work together and rely on each other’s areas of expertise in order to do what is best for our students. The state, through the Governor and/or Education Commissioner, is in charge of decision making regarding whether or not students in the state of Florida will “Stay-at-Home” like this past Spring or return to the school buildings as mandated for this upcoming school year. The order came this Spring to Stay-At-Home, so we did so statewide. The order has been given to return to school buildings five days a week this coming year, so we will do so. There have been exceptions given, but Flagler County does not qualify for an exception at this time.
The Health Department’s expertise is in taking care of the health of the public at large. They have worked directly with the district office in making plans for the reopening of school. If/when someone becomes ill with the virus at school, the health department will direct the schools regarding the steps to take with the sick as well as those exposed. The school district will take direction from the health department as they are the health experts..
The district’s expertise is in educating students. If the state says we are to go to school, we go. The precautions to take to protect the public from this disease is under the health departments area of expertise. The decision to quarantine people and steps to sanitize after exposure in a class will be made by the health department. The district will educate students face to face as long as the Health Department and State of Florida say it is an option as well as offering other options which could be offered in the event Stay-At-Home orders were given again by the state..
Bottom line is we do not know what the future holds regarding this virus. We may have to shut schools down again and transfer the face to face students to Remote Learning, or we may get lucky and be able to keep our schools open and continue educating with all three choices, and better yet, we could all return back to face to face instruction after the first semester. Time will tell…it always does.
5. Would you approve or disapprove of a school board policy requiring mask-wearing on campuses and on district properties, where students and staff gather in any group? Explain your position either way.
This was answered in the previous question. Basically, the state does not require masks, the county does not require masks, the city does not require masks, and neither should the school district. If anyone of those government entities make wearing masks mandatory, then the school district should follow suit. The school district should strongly encourage the wearing of masks by students and staff, just as encouraged by all other government entities.
Since you answered originally, the three cities passed mandatory mask resolutions, the county did not, and the district is still “encouraging” mask wearing. How would you direct the superintendent, if you had a recommendation to give on the matter?
As I understand it, the district has mandated masks for all students grade 3-12. They highly encourage the younger students prek-2 to wear masks. I do believe teachers will be successful getting all students to wear masks that do not have health issues preventing them from doing so. The schools are being very creative with designing mascot type masks and buffs which will help. With our strict dress code, I think students and parents will enjoy being able to be creative with designs and styles.
6. Finances will be a challenge at least for the next two years as the state experiences a significant economic recession and its aftermath. Budget cuts may be necessary. What program areas, aside from instruction, would you cut, and what areas would you consider too critical?
I would not be in favor of any budget cuts that directly impact classroom instruction. That includes instruction and instructional materials necessary for the classroom teacher to do our number one job to educate students. That has to be the priority as that is the purpose of public schools. Those things are however the most expensive part of our budget. I would be willing to look at cuts in any other areas. Cuts are painful but if the budget exceeds the revenue, then those hard decisions will have to be made. I would be willing to explore with the finance department and other board members areas we could cut that would least affect student learning.
“Other areas” raises all sorts of possibilities. Can you cite a couple of examples?
I don’t have anything specific in mind. It would require studying where the money is spent and making a list of priorities. Whatever ended up at the bottom of the priority list would be cut first. I’m stating that my number one priority for spending funds is on personnel and instructional materials that directly impact student learning.
7. What are the district’s three brightest successes and the three failures that affect students most? What will be your chief priorities regarding student achievement, within the limits of the doable—that is, four years from now, what can we look back to and say: you were responsible?
Three brightest successes: (Glows)
1. Graduation rate gains to 92%.
2. Creation of Classroom to Careers and Flagship Programs in partnership with local businesses, government, and The Education Foundation.
3. Reclaiming the “A” District rating.
1. Student achievement with the Exceptional Student Education populations (it’s below the state average)
2. The health, safety, and welfare of all students and staff.
3. Recruiting and retaining highly qualified Instructional and Support Staff personnel.
Those three areas will be my priorities. I will only have two years to facilitate change as the election of my seat is to finish out the remainder of Andy Dance’s term, which ends in 2022. I hope that one could look back and say that I was a loud voice and advocate for improvements in all three of those areas.
What can a school board member do specifically to help raises ESE achievement, or to ensure that highly qualified employees are hired–and from your experience with staffing around you, are you telling us that less than qualified employees have been hired?
To raise ESE achievement this county must first and foremost provide services to our ESE students with fidelity adhering to each student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). Services need to be more specific and carried out in practice, not just on paper. For example, when I was an ESE teacher many years ago in this county, student IEP’s were written with a set number of days and minutes a student was to receive their accommodations in Math, Reading, and/or Language. A student’s IEP may state they are to receive accommodations from their ESE support teacher 5 days a week in Reading for 45 minutes a day or 225 minutes a week. Last year, I saw a support teacher’s schedule that was to service reading children 3 times a week and they were scheduled for a 15 minutes session. That is not support! I will question and push until students are getting served adequately. It is on the operational end which is under the direction of the superintendent, but I’m not sure they know what is really going on in practice. Staffing needs to be adjusted to service our ESE students adequately with the additional dollars they bring in FTE.
To ensure we have highly qualified employees, administration needs to spend more time in teachers’ classrooms and make sure annual teachers are worthy of a contract the next year. There have been many instances where teachers were not effective, but the leadership did not spend sufficient time observing new teachers or creating action plans to remediate struggling teachers. There have been teachers who have received low evaluations and put on “success” plans, but because the administration did not take the proper steps to provide support and properly document outcomes as outlined by contract, the teacher was retained for the next school year.
Lastly, the county needs to become aggressive in recruiting new teachers. If there aren’t enough applicants locally, then we need to recruit nationally. If we want to be the nations premier learning organization, we need the nations premier instructors.
8. In 2022, the district’s half-penny surtax on the sales tax expires. The district will seek to renew it. Evaluate its worth, explaining how you see where it’s paid off, how you see where it has not. Do you support its renewal? Would you alter its scope and fund different items from those funded now?
I will support the continuation of the half-penny surtax. As a district, we are far ahead of other districts in providing devices for our students because we had this tax money since 2012. This type of technology is not going away and the recent Covid-19 events has proven the need for students and staff to have the ready capability to work from home. Hopefully not but that scenario could be repeated. One thing I would change is when traditional school is in session, I would not allow elementary school students to take their devices home. I believe students should leave them at school at charging stations within the classroom, so they are charged and ready to go the next morning. Leaving them at school would also cut down significantly on cyber bullying and other inappropriate use to technology. The devices would also last longer as transporting them between home and school increases accidental damage.
9. The County Commission through the sheriff pay for roughly half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. This year, some school board members grumbled about the cost of the contract with the sheriff and suggested alternatives could be sought. What is your opinion of the district’s relationship and contract with the sheriff’s office? In light of the Black Lives Matter movement’s directions, are you comfortable with the presence of deputies on campus? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you?
First, I would be completely opposed to arming staff instead of contracting with the sheriff for deputies. Guns on campus is a serious thing and I would only be willing to give that power to the experts trained in that field. The issue the board had with the new contract to continue services with the sheriff SRO’s this next year is that the state mandates the safety plans providing a set fixed of dollars. The sheriff is well aware of that fact, but felt he had to bring forth an increase in cost for the school board to continue the same services. This increase has to come out of the general fund in a year when there are expected budget shortfalls due to covid-19 and declining Full Time Equivalent funds with parents choosing to keep their students at home rather than return to traditional school. This simply was a bad time to increase expenses. I believe we need trained personnel on every campus, but not sure if that has to be SRO’s. I would be willing to take a look at the possibility of security guards at the elementary schools with SRO’s at our middle and high schools. I do not feel the current events and Black Lives Matter have any bearing on the use of SRO’s on our campuses. The sheriff has done a great job of selecting deputies that are suited to working on our campuses and I trust him and his decisions to not put any racist deputies on our campuses. He has partnered with the black community and their protest walks. I am pleased with the schools and sheriff relationship.
10. Of course you support all rights for students. But LGBTQ rights were at issue this year, and may be at issue again during your tenure. Evaluate the way the district handled the matter of “gender identity” this year, keeping that wording out of its non-discrimination policy. Would you revisit the issue? If a student identifies differently from what’s on the student’s birth certificate, with regard to biological sex, what should the student’s school do, or not do, with regards to accommodate that identity?
The Supreme Court confirmed my personal understanding and belief of the current non-discrimination policy when it recently ruled the current non-discrimination policies included the transgender population. Thus no change in policy is needed. What is needed are policies that help protect LGBTQ students in their daily affairs in school which have not been addressed by the school board. I believe the school board needs to make policies regarding transgender students’ use of restrooms and locker rooms, as well as policy regarding name changes and pronouns. Inclusion in sports also needs to be addressed with new policies made. These are issues facing our students that need to be addressed.
11. Last school year the Flagler Health Department sought to add the HPV-suppressing Gardasil vaccine to the other vaccines it already provides on campus, free, on a voluntary basis. The school board split 3-2 against. How would you vote should the issue arise again and why?
With parental permission, I am in favor of adding the HPV-suppressing vaccine Gardasil vaccine to the other vaccines already provided on campus free of charge. My only concern would be if it would take instructional time from class, but I feel certain the schools could schedule the vaccines to be given where time isn’t taken away from classroom instruction.
Would you apply the same standard–no instructional time taken–for a covid vaccine, as schools may be among the most efficient places to propagate the eventual vaccine?
Absolutely. I believe it would be a great service to parents and the health of our community to offer the option to get vaccines at school during non academic time for school age children.
I am super excited about our county’s Classroom to Careers work and Flagship Programs. The programs continue to expand into various fields and I look forward to further expansion. My only concern at this point is student enrollment is not where it should be. We need to work on helping students determine fields of study they may be interested in pursuing, providing the additional programs, and promoting these alternative paths for post school. We need students to not only pursue career paths requiring college diplomas, but we desperately need students to go into the trades.
I should be held accountable for everything I say and do. That includes social media at work or at play.
14. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.